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State park murder case may go to jury today

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LUVERNE -- Judge Timothy Connell informed the jury Wednesday afternoon it would probably begin deliberation today in the trial of Randy Leeroyal Swaney.

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"The end is coming," Connell said, who was greeted by sighs of relief from a jury who has listened to testimony for nine days.

Swaney is accused of murdering Blue Mound State Park worker Carrie Christine Nelson on May 20, 2001, while robbing the park office. DNA and fingerprints tie him to the scene, although he told his wife and father during phone calls he has never been to the park.

Defense attorney Louis Kuchera said Wednesday a decision about what testimony is left will be made overnight. When asked if Swaney will take the stand, he just smiled.

"You'll have to show up tomorrow to find out," he said.

The day's testimony began with input from several people who either live near the park or were there the day of the murder. One person who lives nearby noted a blue-green car on the gravel road that runs near the park at the approximate time of the murder, another saw a dark blue SUV turn onto the state park road from U.S. 75 around that same time.

The jury also heard testimony from several former or current inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. David Hennings, Swaney's cousin and an inmate at the pen, said Mike Kottman, an inmate who informed prison staff of things Swaney had allegedly told him about the murder, is known for making up stories to get himself out of trouble. Cross-examination by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Bill Klumpp revealed that Swaney had informed on another person, Leslie Green, leading to his arrest when he attempted to burglarize a casino.

Hennings said he did not know about Swaney "snitching" on anyone. Former inmate Richard Tarvox testified he was also unaware of Swaney's "snitch." Tarvox said it was common knowledge Kottman was a "snitch" or "rat."

Another inmate, Jeremy Kunze, was the former cellmate of Donald Ingalls, a man who testified earlier in the trial that Swaney had spoken to the two of them about the murder. Kunze told the jury Swaney never made any kind of admissions in his presence nor related any concerns about a phone call between himself and his wife.

The last to testify Wednesday was Carla Olivarez, a woman from Dubuque, Iowa, who had met Anthony Flowers in May 2001. Several people testified earlier in the trial that Flowers had confessed to them he had killed Nelson, even though Flowers denied it in interviews. Klumpp had suggested to the jury in opening arguments that there was some collusion between Flowers and another inmate to get him moved from the federal prison system to the state prison system.

Olivarez said when she met Flowers he was using the first name Clyde and had said he was a construction contractor in town to bid on a hotel job. They met when she and a friend were in a bar singing karaoke, and the three of them then spent the evening gambling before going out to breakfast -- all paid for by "Clyde." Olivarez said she saw him briefly a few days later, then never heard from him again. Two years later, the FBI came to her workplace looking for her. Flowers had been arrested for bank robbery and had told the FBI he wanted her for a witness as she was his girlfriend.

"I was shocked," she said when asked her reaction to finding out Flowers was a bank robber.

She wrote him a letter in prison, asking why he had given her name, and the two of them starting communicating by mail. Eventually, she went to see him in prison.

"I felt bad for him," Olivarez explained. "I've had a pretty rough life and understand why some people turn bad."

The last time she went to see him in late 2005, she said, Flowers told her he had something he wanted to get off his chest.

"He said he and a friend had been traveling and decide to rob a park office," Olivarez told the jury.

He didn't mention Blue Mounds State Park or the workers name, but did say he and his female friend killed the young girl.

"Actually, he said it was his friend that had actually killed her," Olivarez reported. "He said she took her into the woods and killed her."

Olivarez could not remember all the details Flowers told her because she said she didn't want to hear it and tuned him out.

"Did he know you were a student in criminal justice?" Klumpp asked.

"Yes," Olivarez answered.

"Did he know you would go to the authorities?" Klumpp asked.

"Probably," she replied.

Olivarez said she went home that night, looked up the case on the Internet and found the Nelson murder. She called authorities the next day, but was not contacted by them until almost three months later.

Olivarez said she doesn't remember seeing Flowers smoke in their time together and doesn't remember if he wore a watch.

Court will convene today at 8:30 a.m., when it will be revealed whether or not Swaney will testify. Closing arguments and jury instructions are expected to take place some time today, with the jury beginning deliberations afterward. The jury will not be sequestered overnight, but will take meals at the courthouse while in deliberation.

Connell said he does expect the jury to deliberate into the evening, but how late it works will be up to the jury foreman and the jury.

"So plan accordingly," he told them.

When one asked if they would be expected to deliberate Saturday if they had not reached a decision before then, Connell said it would be discussed Friday.

"The possibility is likely," he stated.

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